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Three’s Company In San Diego Mayoral Race

Lori Saldaña announces her candidacy for San Diego mayor, Jan. 28, 2015.
Christopher Maue
Lori Saldaña announces her candidacy for San Diego mayor, Jan. 28, 2015.
Three’s Company In San Diego Mayoral Race
Three’s Company In San Diego Mayoral Race
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was widely thought to be coasting to re-election on June 7. But now with two high-profile challengers — former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña and former City Councilman Ed Harris — Faulconer has been forced to defend his record in office.
Three’s Company In San Diego Mayoral Race
Three’s Company In San Diego Mayoral Race GUEST: Andrew Bowen, KPBS Metro Reporter

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. We are less than a month away from elections on June 7. For a long time Mayor Kevin Faulconer look to be cruising to reelection. Two opponents entered the race forcing the mayor to defend his record in a competitive campaign. Andrew Baldwin takes a look at the race. I Kevin Faulconer do solemnly swear. March 3, 2014, Kevin Faulconer is sworn in. The city had been through a lot of turmoil. A sexual harassment -- scandal. San Diego's were looking for stability. Faulkner seem to be the answer. Now, two years later he says the city is better off. I tried to set the tone to work together with people, collaborate. That's probably one of my biggest strengths, is working with people. It's not about Republican, Democrat, or independent. It's what's right thing for San Diego? If not for his popularity has led to speculation he is eyeing higher office. His opponents have exploited that, saying he is not committed to staying. I like the fact that people in other parts of the state are saying San Diego you are on the verge of bankruptcy and you turned it around. We do have a success story. Can you promise voters that you will stay in office for four years? I'm running or mayor of this great city. He counts his recent budget is evidence that he is fixing problems. There is more money for street repair, the budget has weaknesses identified by the city's independent budget analyst. Police officers are leaving the city for better pay and benefits elsewhere. Lori Saldana is running against the mayor. She served in the state assembly for six years. She now teaches information technology in the San Diego community college District. I have applicants from the police department come into my classroom. Their concerns are lack of good training. I worry that they leave their shift and then they are asked to fill in for the dispatcher. They are working more hours, that's very stressful. When you work long hours, you are more likely to make a mistake. She said she got fed up with party politics, now she's an independent and a progressive. She supports the local minimum wage increase that Mayor Faulconer vetoed. It's becoming more expensive, pushing more people out of San Diego. This current administration is really not doing much to help that situation. If she were Faulconer 's only appointment -- opponent, Ed Harris entered the race. He sat on the city Council for nine months, finishing out Faulconer 's. He heads the lifeguard union. I him at the location where he first started to work. We're losing half the lifeguards in the next five years according to the auditor's report, there is no plan to fix it. We have asked for a nutrition plan for the last four years. This mayor does not act until there is a crisis or until there is a public benefit. That's not being a mayor, that's not leadership, what you need to do in leadership is be proactive. We should be taking. -- Care of problems before they are out of control. They are clear underdogs, Mayor Faulconer has a huge advantage. If he wins more than 50% of the vote, he wins reelection. If Harrison saw then you can steal away enough votes and push this campaign through to a November runoff. Andrew joins me now. Thanks Maureen. Can you give us background on them and their experience. Lori Saldana says -- is a state representative since 2004. She launched an unsuccessful campaign to unseat peters. She co-authored a bill to be on open carry of unloaded handguns. That died while she was in office, it was reintroduced a year later, it was ultimately signed. She also co-authored this climate action excuse me the bill which mandates reduction in greenhouse gases. Ed Harris brands himself is not a politician, he has served as a lifeguard for his entire career. He did have a brief time on the city Council and made a mark while he was there. He opposed a lease expansion of Belmont Park saying it was a bad idea for taxpayers. He sort of latched onto this housing density issue in Bay Park, next door to mission beach. He was joining some residence in opposing height limits that would increase height limits going around a new trolley stop. He has evolved on the issue of housing density and now supports transit oriented development. After interviewing these candidates what would you say are the key issues that they differ on? Minimum wage is the clearest cut issue that they differ on. Harrison saw then you supported, the mayor vetoed it. Harris was the sixth about to override that veto and as we know he ultimately got forced on by signatures. That is a clear difference they also support the citizens plan which would increase the transit Oxus be -- occupancy tax. The mayor has not yet taken a position on that. They also oppose the Chargers plan for a new stadium. They have criticized the mayor for his previous plan which would have given hundreds of millions of dollars to help will that. Faulconer hasn't taken initiative on the Chargers either. Has any polling been done? No. Not any public polling. It's safe to assume that Faulconer is using the money that he is fund raise to poll internally. Those are just the property campaigns. You talk about a huge disparity in funds raised by Faulconer . How big a difference? Faulconer raised a little over $1 million in the calendar year of 2015. The latest disclosure, which went through April 23 of this year, he raised $158,000. Compare that to Ed Harris, who raced 43,000 and Lori Saldana and Yahoo grace 28,000. They were not in this campaign last year. To put those numbers in perspective, it's really a tiny fraction of what Faulconer has raised. You talk of the huge disparity in funds and you explained it. Since Kevin Faulconer has no real challenge, had no real challenge until earlier this year. Why does he have such a big warchest? Why did he raise so much money? Is he looking to run for governor? The Faulconer campaign decided early on that they were not going to take this reelection for granted. There was a lot of money spent in the campaign in 2013 and the runoff in 2014. They decided, we can't just sit around and not fund raise while we are waiting for a challenger to come in. Every politician raises money. I don't think it's fair to speculate, saying he is going to run for governor and that's why he's raising all this money. To any candidates have any new ideas about increasing revenues. That's been identified as a potential weakness in the city's fiscal future. The citizens plan, which Harris and Saul tenure -- sol Danielle support. The candidates were afraid of saying they were supporting new taxes. Harris pointed out that it made sense for the city to borrow money now because the interest rates are low. I tried to press him on the issue, he said the city has to get its finances in order and make sure the candidates are getting the best deal possible. Only after that point can you have a conversation with taxpayers and say if you want longer library hours, more parks, this is what is going to cost. There are two more forums before the election one on May 24, one on June 3. I've been speaking with Andrew Bowen. Thanks Maureen.

When Kevin Faulconer was sworn in as mayor of San Diego on March 3, 2014, the city was still recovering from the embarrassing sexual harassment scandal that forced Mayor Bob Filner to resign. Faulconer looked to bring the stability voters desired.

In a recent interview, Faulconer said the city is better off now, and that he has tried as mayor to collaborate with people regardless of party affiliation. His last budget won unanimous approval from the City Council, and he signed the city’s ambitious — and bipartisan — Climate Action Plan.

“I think that’s probably one of my biggest strengths, is working with people,” he said. “It’s not about Republican, Democrat or independent. “It’s what’s the right thing we should be doing for San Diego.”


It is precisely Faulconer’s popularity as a Republican in a more Democratic city that has led to speculation he’s eyeing higher office, perhaps the governorship in 2018. His opponents accuse him of being more concerned with running for higher office than fixing San Diego’s problems.

Kevin Faulconer

Age: 49

Hometown: Oxnard

Education: Bachelor's degree in political science, San Diego State University

Family: Wife, Katherine Stuart Faulconer, daughter Lauren and son Jack

Career history: San Diego City Council (2006-2014); vice president, Porter Novelli (1996-2005); manager, Solem & Associates (1992-96); fellow, Coro Foundation (1991-92); carpet cleaner (1990-91)

Other interests: Cycling, swimming, running, watching SDSU Athletics, spending time with his family

Fun Fact: Participated in an exchange program with a several Mexican families growing up, spending summers in Ocotlan, Mexico.

Faulconer dismissed that speculation, and attributed it to statewide interest in San Diego’s emergence from its damaging pension crisis.

“We do have a successful story, and so I think that’s where you’re seeing some of that come from,” he said. Asked if he could promise San Diego voters he would stay in office for a full four-year term, Faulconer said: “I’m running for mayor to stay as mayor of this great city.”

Police problems

Faulconer touted his budget for fiscal 2017, which begins July 1, as evidence he is fixing problems. The City Council’s independent budget analyst, Andrea Tevlin, praised the budget for strengthening the city’s reserves, increasing funding for street repair and funding an update to the city’s comprehensive park plan.


She also identified weaknesses, including its lack of ideas for new revenue. San Diego has a long list of needs, Tevlin wrote, and it is “likely that new resources will need to be considered in the near future if City plans are to be implemented.”

Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his second State of the City speech at the Balboa Theatre, Jan. 14, 2016.
Milan Kovacevic
Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his second State of the City speech at the Balboa Theatre, Jan. 14, 2016.

Among the city’s most urgent problems is police officer recruitment and retention. Many officers are leaving the San Diego Police Department for better pay and benefits elsewhere. While Faulconer’s previous budget may have kept the problem from getting worse, the attrition rate has remained stubbornly high. The current budget, Tevlin wrote, “does not include any new initiatives or resources aimed at improving police recruitment and retention beyond what was negotiated in 2015.”

Lori Saldaña

Age: 57

Hometown: San Diego

Education: Bachelor's degree (1980) and master's degree (1990) from San Diego State University — School of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences

Family: Three sisters, nine nieces and nephews, parents Frank and Virginia (deceased)

Career history: Professor of computers and business information technology, San Diego Community College Sistrict (since 1996); state assemblywoman (2004-2010); environmental research fellow, UCSD Center for US-Mexico Studies (2003)

Other interests: Gardening, hiking, whale watching in Baja lagoons, camping, kayaking, sailing, SCUBA/snorkeling

Fun fact: Native La Jollan, born at Scripps Hospital when it was located on Prospect Avenue

Former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, who entered the mayor’s race in January, said she encounters entrants to San Diego’s police academies in the information technology classes she teaches for the San Diego Community College District. She said they have shared concerns that the Police Department’s on-the-job training would be insufficient.

“I also worry that they leave their shift, and then they’re asked to go fill in for the dispatchers,” she said. “So they’re working more hours, and that’s very stressful. It’s like air traffic controllers. … When you work long hours, you’re more likely to make a mistake.”

When Saldaña served in the Assembly from 2004 to 2010, she was a Democrat. She said she then got fed up with party politics and switched to become an independent. She said she remains a staunch progressive, however, and supports the local minimum wage increase that Mayor Faulconer vetoed.

“It’s very frustrating to see a situation in our city where it’s becoming more and more expensive, pushing more and more people out of San Diego,” she said. “And this current administration is really not doing much to help that situation.”

‘Proactive’ leadership

If Saldaña were Faulconer’s only opponent on June 7, the election would almost certainly have been settled then. Unlike candidates for state and federal office, city of San Diego candidates who get more than 50 percent of the vote in June can bypass elections in November.

But on March 1, lifeguard union leader and former City Councilman Ed Harris entered the race. Harris, a Democrat, was appointed to finish the nine months remaining in Faulconer’s term on the City Council when Faulconer was elected mayor.

San Diego mayoral candidate Ed Harris, right, speaks to KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen at the Ocean Beach Pier, May 2, 2016.
Kris Arciaga
San Diego mayoral candidate Ed Harris, right, speaks to KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen at the Ocean Beach Pier, May 2, 2016.

Harris said the lifeguard service has a similar problem with attrition as the police, as identified in a city auditor’s report in May 2015. He said Faulconer has not presented a plan to fix it.

Ed Harris

Age: 50

Hometown: Fullerton

Education: Leadership development, U.S. Marine Corps; certificate in fire science, Palomar College

Family: Wife, Kate Harris; children Brian, 12, and Morgan, 11

Career history: Marine Corps, 1984-1988; lifeguard 1989-present; Current lifeguard sergeant and supervisor in Northern Area; Dive team sergeant; Boating safety unit sergeant. Property Management. 1998-present.

Other interests: Freediving, gardening, fishing, skiing, traveling with family

Fun fact: Was a test diver for James Cameron's project manager, assisted in diving operations while testing prototype submarines, which assisted in his successful descent to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

“This mayor does not act until there’s a crisis or until it benefits him publicly — that’s not being a mayor,” Harris said. “What you need to do in leadership is be proactive. We should be taking care of problems before they become major, or before they become out of control.”

Harris made a mark during his brief time on the City Council by casting the sixth vote to override the mayor’s veto of the local minimum wage increase. He also opposed an increase to the height limit on buildings in Bay Park, linked with higher-density housing around a forthcoming trolley extension through the neighborhood. Harris said he has evolved from his oft-quoted statement that “density belongs downtown,” and now supports transit-oriented development when it respects the concerns of neighborhood residents.

He also made a splash by opposing a lease extension on the city-owned Belmont Park at Mission Beach. He said the lease was just one of several bad deals for taxpayers that take away money from other city services.

Harris and Saldaña are clear underdogs — Mayor Faulconer has a near insurmountable advantage in fundraising and campaign organization. If Faulconer wins more than 50 percent of the vote on June 7, he wins re-election. The question is if Harris and Saldaña can steal away enough votes and push this campaign through to a November runoff.